Muni fares still cheap compared to other U.S. systems 

click to enlarge S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner file photo

The cost of a monthly Muni pass with BART access inside The City is once again poised to increase, but frustrated riders can take solace: Public transit in San Francisco is still much cheaper than other major U.S. cities.

Next year, that Muni pass is expected to cost $76, marking nearly a 70 percent increase since 2009. At its current $72 rate, the pass costs less than all but one of 10 U.S. cities with comparable transit service. And without BART access, it’s $62 -- a deal only bested by Boston’s $59 rate.

New York City’s monthly pass costs $104, Chicago’s is $86 and in Philadelphia it ranges from $83 to $191.

Muni’s proposed monthly fare increases -- $2 hikes are slated for the next two Julys -- would generate about $3.5 million annually for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which is facing a two-year shortfall of $53.2 million.

Gabe Metcalf, executive director of the local think tank San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, said there is room for Muni’s monthly pass to go up, especially when comparing the cost with the SFMTA’s peers. But he said the single-trip cash fare, $2, has likely reached its peak.

“No revenue is easy to come by,” said Metcalf, who sits on a panel aimed at balancing Muni’s budget deficit. “But raising the cost of Muni’s monthly pass is relatively benign compared to other options.”

Muni operates exclusively in an urban environment, making it less expensive to run the system, which explains the relatively cheap fares, said Robert Boden, who also sits on the budget panel and is a spokesman for the advocacy group San Francisco Transit Riders Union. He said a more accurate depiction of cost would be the agency’s farebox recovery rate, which details how much of the Muni system is subsidized by transit fares.

But even when looking at that statistic, Muni fares are still a relative bargain. At about 22 percent, Muni’s fare-recovery ratio is much lower than agencies in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., according to the Federal Transit Administration.

Still, Boden said continued fare increases could drive commuters back into their cars.

The SFMTA’s board of directors could approve a budget April 3 that includes the latest fare increases.

The American Public Transportation Association said 79 percent of U.S. transit agencies increased fares or reduced service in 2011.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

Comparing costs

Muni’s fares remain less expensive than other U.S. transit systems:

City ...................................................... Monthly fare
WMATA (Washington, D.C.) ................. $47/week*
NYMTA (NYC) ........................................ $104
MARTA (Atlanta) ................................... $95
CTA (Chicago) ........................................ $86
SEPTA (Philadelphia) ............................$83-$191
King County Metro Transit (Seattle) ... $81
AC Transit (Oakland) ............................ $80-$151
LA MTA (LA) .......................................... $75-$84
SF Muni ................................................... $62-$72**
MBTA (Boston) ...................................... $59

*For rail service
**Proposed to increase to $66-$76 by July 1, 2013

Sources: Various transit agencies, SFMTA, American Public Transportation Association

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Will Reisman

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